A Destination for Discipleship & a Family of Followers
The months leading up to college can be a stressful time for students. Roommates. Classes. Last-minute shopping trips. The list of things begging for their attention can feel endless.
Claire (Byers BS 16) Penird, however, had other things on her mind.
Every summer beginning her freshman year, Penird would pray and ask the Lord to provide an unbeliever or a new Christian for her to disciple in the upcoming year at Grace.
A member of Marysville Grace Brethren Church in Marysville, Ohio, Penird first grasped the importance of discipleship in high school when a woman at church took her under her wing and showed her what following Jesus was all about. Because of that relationship, Penird went into college with a passion for disciple-making. That passion poured out year after year. And God was faithful to provide.
“Every single year of college, I was amazed that God led me to disciple an unbeliever at Grace,” said Penird. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”
While Penird was praying in the summer of 2014 for someone to disciple, Jessica James (BS 18) of LaGrange, Indiana, was preparing for her freshman year at Grace.
James grew up going to church on and off with her family but didn’t have many Christian influences in her life, aside from a high school teacher who would play Christian music in her classroom. “At the time, I wanted to know more about God, and that’s what ultimately made me decide on Grace,” recalls James.
While excited to experience the tight-knit community at Grace, James stepped onto the campus with a number of reservations and grieving the loss of her grandmother that summer.
After moving in and participating in a day’s worth of Welcome Weekend activities, a number of girls from Jessica’s Hall congregated in the basement of Westminster Hall. Someone played “Jesus Loves Barabbas” by Judah Smith, a compelling video which narrates the scandalous trial before Jesus takes the cross.
“I knew about God and thought that I was saved, but that video really struck me in a new way,” James remembered.
Later that week, James was introduced to the RAs and Growth Group Leaders on her hall, one of which was Penird.
Penird still remembers meeting James for the first time. “It was evident that Jessica had a curiosity about God and his Word and was open to any opportunity to learn more,” said Penird.
Penird asked James to go out to breakfast, and that breakfast was the start of a two-year discipleship. As the two got closer, they began reading the Word together and discussing things that were confusing or difficult to understand. “I never really read the Bible growing up,” said James. “Claire would sometimes bring a children’s Bible with pictures. That really helped because sometimes the Bible didn’t make sense to me.”
But even then, Penird was faithful to let the Word of God do the heavy lifting.
“Literally, Jessica learned the gospel through the Word itself — reading passages and realizing the greatness of God, the greatness of her sin and her need for a Savior,” said Penird. “I was just there to open up the book and walk alongside her with that.”
One night, after a tearful discussion at 2 a.m. in Westminster, James made the decision to follow Jesus with her life.
James and Penird continued to meet weekly, digging into the Word and truly growing together.
For Penird, walking through the gospels afresh renewed her own appreciation for Christ. “As an ‘older’ Christian, it’s easy to grow dull to your familiarity of the gospel and lose your awe and wonder,” said Penird. “Discipling Jessica gave me fresh eyes to see the gospel and spurred me to ask questions I had never thought of before.”
And for James, it was just the beginning of a new discipleship journey filled with grace.
“I look back on my college decision, and I’m so glad I chose Grace. At other schools, you just don’t get the same family feel,” said James. “I wouldn’t have made it through college without the people who poured into me and showed me God’s love at Grace. Whether it was a professor, an RD, or someone in the Counseling Center, I was constantly reminded of Christ’s love, a love that I didn’t really deserve.”
The call to follow Christ is an invitation addressed to each and every one of us — whether it beckons you to respond to the gift of salvation like Jessica or if it spurs you to engage in discipleship like Claire.
Wherever it is that a student begins when they show up as a freshman, Grace College is a place where students are encouraged to follow Him in new and life-changing ways.
We are a family of followers.